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HOW THE U.K. CULINARY SCENE IS EVOLVING FROM CENTURIES-OLD TRADITION

British cuisine, if Chef Derek Quelch is to be believed, is undergoing a sea change. A recent visitor to the Philippines under the auspices of the British Embassy to usher in a food festival, this culinary ambassador is out to quash tired notions of tradtional British fare. Food lovers usually conjure up images of fish and chips, roast beef, sticky toffee pudding, steamed chocolate sponge, meringue with whipped cream and sausages.

Quelch says that in the past 20 years, British cuisine has been undergoing a transformation. Even traditional British pubs known for their beverages are now evolving into modern gastropubs, going beyond the usual wine, beer, and ale. “Our pubs are cleaner and lighter,” he explains. “People also dress up to dine out and go to new places. They complain if the service and food are not good. Before, they would just walk away quietly. Maybe, it’s because the economy has improved or the people today are more knowledgeable about food.”

Prior to doing culinary consultancy for many international groups, Quelch was the executive chef for the Goring Restaurant in the U.K. for more than 10 years. The Goring was voted The Best Restaurant in 2005 by ITV/Tivo. The culinary whiz also worked as a chef in hotels in France, Switzerland and Germany.

His overseas experience exposed him to many culinary cultures, but reinforced his love for and pride in his own. He traces the traditional heaviness of British food to their history, specifically from World War II. “There was very little to eat and there was rationing,” he says. “That’s where the heavy puddings came about,
the eggs and the flour and the people’s need for them.”

He adds, “The seasons make the British. We love the spring and summer, and we need the autumn. We focus on the fish and salad, which are light, for the summer, and on the soup for the winter.”

Change will push the boundaries and transform the food and service, but the essentials of what makes for a particular national cuisine will remain. “When you are planning menus, you do have to be aware of trends,” says Quelch. “But you don’t lose the identity of a cuisine. You start playing with that – and people will notice.”